Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2

First Published: April 2004

Contents: The Tomb of Dracula #26 (November 1974) to #49 (October 1976); Giant-Size Dracula #2 (September 1974) to #5 (June 1975); and Doctor Strange #14 (May 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer, Chris Claremont, Don Heck, David Kraft, Steve Englehart, and others

Key First Appearances: Harold H. Harold, Aurora Rabinowitz, Domini, Anton Lupeski

Story Continues From: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 3

Overview: Dracula is dead! Love live Dracula!

Welcome back to The Tomb of Dracula, the legendary run by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. Having worked on the title for more than a year, the creative team have found their stride with the title, putting together some of the best stories in the run of the series.

Picking up where things left off in the last collection, Dracula is believed to be dead, which leads his pursuers to go their separate ways. Taj returns tot India, where we discover that his wife is crippled and his own son is a vampire. Frank travels to Brazil, where he encounters zombies and the mysterious Brother Voodoo.

Meanwhile, Dracula realizes that this powers are waning, and must track down the reason for his condition. Following the clues, he travels across to Europe, taking on assignments to move him forward in his weakened condition. Eventually, the clues point him to America and Dr. Sun, who apparently did not die in their last battle seen in Volume 1.

Dracula crosses the Atlantic to America, where he sets up his operations in Boston. There, he meets a new ally in Harold H. Harold, a would-be writer of vampire tales. Harold hopes to leverage his friendship as a source for new stories. Dracula revives long enough to confront Dr. Sun, only to be killed by a henchman.

As can be expected, there is no quiet way for a vampire to travel, and eventually Quincy Harker and his team are back on Dracula’s trail, following him to America. Realizing how strong Dr. Sun has become, the vampire hunters conclude that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and bring Dracula back to life to help them in their battle. Dr. Sun is eventually defeated and Dracula regains his powers.

Following a meeting between Dracula and Doctor Strange, the vampire turns his attention to establishing a base of power in America. He joins up with the Church of the Damned in Boston. He meets Domini, a beautiful woman who has given herself over to the church, and decides to take her as his new bride. Dracula plans on siring a new child, with the goal of taking over the church to expand his reach. Unfortunately, the church has plans to use the offspring to take down Dracula once and for all.

What makes this Essential?: Wolfman, Colan and Palmer reach their peak with this collection. The stories and art are more solid than the previous and next volumes. Dracula finally feels like a threat, yet he remains a character you want to see succeed in his actions. I like setting the stories in America, as it gives the entire team a more comfortable environment in which to tell the stories.

Footnotes: Doctor Strange #14 and Tomb of Dracula #44 and #45 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3.

Several issues in this Essential make reference to the events in Dracula Lives, a black-and-white magazine that ran for 13 issues. Those magazines are collected in Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Doctor Strange vs. Dracula trade paperback from 2006. Yes, it does reprint the crossover already collected in this Essential, but it also includes a five-part story from Doctor Strange #58 to #62 from 1983. In this story arc by Roger Stern and Dan Green, the two title characters are searching for the Darkhold, a book with untold secrets. One of those secrets can bring an end to all vampires on Earth. Dracula and Doctor Strange go back-and-forth in their quest to claim the book, which also brings in Blade and the Avengers.

Essential Wolverine Vol. 7

First Published: June 2013

Contents: Wolverine #129 (October 1998) to #148 (March 2000); and Hulk #8 (November 1999)

Key Creator Credits: Todd DeZago, Fabian Nicieza, Erik Larsen, Eric Stephenson, Leinil Francis Yu, Cary Nord, Jeff Matsuda, Mike Miller, Roger Cruz, Ron Garney, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Wolverine Vol. 6

Overview: Over the years, Wolverine has faced every foe possible, from Magneto to Apocalypse to Sabretooth. He’s even clashed with the mainstream villains like Dr. Doom. But leave it to his, the final Essential Wolverine collection, for Wolverine to go up against the ultimate force in the Marvel Universe – Galactus!

Following the standard Wolverine vs. Sabretooth story that we are quite familiar with already, Wolverine gets caught up in an intergalactic tale. He gets kidnapped via a mutant who can control minds. Wolverine regains control to find himself mixed up with the Collector. With an assist from the Starjammers, Wolverine stops the Collector but finds he must now protect the various captives on the ship from Galactus. Wolverine learns that some battles cannot be won and that getting everyone out alive is the best victory you can hope for in this situation.

Next up are a series of one-shot team-up issues, featuring the likes of Cable, Nightcrawler, Jubilee and Alpha Flight. It’s really surprising to me, given how insanely popular Wolverine became during this era, that Marvel never gave him his own team-up book, much like Spider-Man and the Thing had in the 1970s and 1980s.

Finally, as part of the character’s 25th-anniversary celebration, Wolverine is finally reunited with his adamantium skeleton and claws. Professor Xavier has been forced to disband the X-Men when they find that Apocalypse has planted a fake Wolverine on their team. In all actuality, the real Wolverine finds himself as one of Apocalypse’s four horsemen, Death. Unfortunately, too much of the storyline is not reprinted here, so I’m going to need to check out the reprint collection of The Twelve to get a full idea of what is going on in this story.

The final issue is part of the Ages of Apocalypse storyline, featuring a reunion of the All-New Fantastic Four (Wolverine, Spider-Man, Hulk and Ghost Rider), which was first introduced in Walt Simonson’s memorable run on Fantastic Four. It’s a fun mash-up of characters, and one that I wish Marvel would find a way to revisit again someday.

What makes this Essential?: Why does this have to happen to me? Just when I really start to enjoy the Wolverine line of books, the Essential line comes to an end. I wasn’t reading the Wolverine title (or the X-Men books) in this era, so this was my first read of all of these issues. These are more interesting stories, especially those that do not get caught up in the current X-event.

If you like this volume, try: the 2017 Logan movie. This may be Hugh Jackman’s best take on Wolverine in any of the X-Men and Wolverine movies over the last 20 years. Borrowing heavily from Old Man Logan, the film takes place sometime in the future, where most of the mutants have been killed off. Logan finds himself as Xavier’s caretaker, trying to help the Professor keep his abilities in check as dementia takes over his mind. A new mutant, Laura Kinney, appears on the scene, created from Logan’s DNA, making her Wolverine’s daughter. He agrees to take Laura to Eden, a safe place for mutants, only to discover that it’s a mythical place from a comic book. They are hunted by the Reavers, who are relentless in their pursuit of the mutants. Logan eventually finds Eden but must sacrifice himself to stop the Reavers and give the kids a chance to escape. This was a tremendous movie, doing well with both critics and the box-office returns.

Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 2

First Published: January 2015

Contents: Star Spangled War Stories #189 (July 1975) to #204 (March 1977); and The Unknown Soldier #205 (May 1977) to #226 (April 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Joe Kubert, David Michelinie, Gerry Talaoc, Bob Haney, Dick Ayers, Al Milgrom, and others

Key First Appearances: Chat Noir

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 1

Overview: In Two In every war, there is a man who no one knows, yet who is known by everyone. He wears a thousand faces — fights countless battles — and proves that one man, in the right place at the right time, can make the difference. This is Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier Vol. 2.

Once again, the Unknown Soldier takes on the missions that no one else could handle. With the ability to wear any face, the Unknown Soldier can pose as any man — or woman — allowing himself to work his way behind enemy lines and sabotage the Axis efforts to win the war. Sometimes the Unknown Soldier must rescue someone, other times he must destroy a base or weapon to keep it from turning the tide of war. Most of the stories are set in Europe, but we do get some stories set in the Pacific or Northern Africa.

The one change to these stories is the introduction of a supporting character. Chat Noir is a former U.S. soldier who now works with the French Underground. He provides support and someone for the Unknown Soldier to interact with while on the missions.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I believe I enjoyed this volume slightly more than the first volume.There is a little bit of continuity from issue to issue, via multi-part stories or the addition of a supporting cast in Chat Noir. The art from Gerry Talaoc and Dick Ayers stands out in the black & white format. The stories from David Michelinie and Bob Haney are serviceable, following the standard format of setting up the Unknown Soldier in a dire situation on pages 1 & 2, a flashback on pages 3-5 showing how he got into that situation, and then 5 pages or more to get out of the trap and complete his mission. I think I enjoyed this series more than say Sgt. Rock or even Sgt. Fury, where the large supporting cast sometimes gets in the way of telling the story.

Footnotes: The Unknown Solider ran until #268 (October 1982). The character has had multiple miniseries over the years, either due to a new story to be told or to keep the copyrights on the character.

If you like this volume, try: the Vertigo-published Unknown Soldier series from 2008. The series is written by Joshua Dysart, with art from Alberto Ponticelli. Set in Uganda during the 2002 civil war, Moses Lwanga is a doctor who is doing his best to protect his family and patients amidst the chaos of the war. But he suffers from nightmares, where he sees himself killing others like a soldier would. Donning the bandages to his face, Lwanga becomes the Unknown Soldier, trying to make the situation better by any means necessary. Along the way, the reader discovers a connection between Lwanga and the original Unknown Soldier from World War II. The series ran for 25 issues and has been collected in four trade paperbacks. The early trades appear to be out of print so you may need to go back issue bin diving to locate this incredible story.

Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 2

First Published: March 2014

Contents: Jonah Hex stories from Weird Western Tales #34 (May-June 1976) to #38 (January-February 1977); and Jonah Hex #1 (March-April 1977) to #22 (March 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Michael Fleisher, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Vicente Alcazar, and others

Key First Appearances: El Papagayo, Woodson Hex,

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 1

Overview: He was a hero to some, a villain to others… and wherever he rode, people spoke his name in whispers. He had no friends, this Jonah Hex, but he did have two companions: one was Death itself… the other, the acrid smell of gunsmoke…. This is Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 2.

Once again, we are treated to mostly one-and-done stories in this collection, but there is some continuation from time to time with the stories. We do get to delve into more of the origins of Jonah Hex. We find out that Jonah was sold to an Apache tribe by his own father. He was raised like one of their own and became a man at age 16 according to tribe custom. Unfortunately, the tribe leader’s son Noh-Tante grew jealous of the attention that Jonah was receiving from the young women, specifically White Fawn, of the tribe. Noh-Tante eventually betrayed Jonah, leaving him captured with a tribe of Kiowa Indians.

Years later, Jonah returned to his Apache tribe to find that Noh-Tante and White Fawn were man and wife. Jonah told the chief of Noh-Tante’s actions and had the chance to face him in combat. Noh-Tante sabotaged Jonah’s tomahawk, and he was forced to use a knife to defend himself by killing Noh-Tante. The tribe chief had Jonah’s face branded with the mark of the demon and banished him from the tribe with the threat of death if he was ever to return.

Of course, Jonah would return at some point, but it would be White Fawn who is ultimately punished by the chief for helping Jonah escape. Jonah kills the chief and most of the tribe as he leaves for the last time.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I definitely appreciated this volume more than Volume 1. My complaint with the last collection is that most of those stories could be told with any of DC’s western characters. They were western stories that happened to feature Jonah Hex. With this collection, we get Jonah Hex stories, and the world needs more Jonah Hex!

If you like this volume, try: watching some of Jonah’s appearances in the DC Animated Universe. Jonah Hex has been featured in Batman: The Animated Series (Showdown), Justice League Unlimited (The Once and Future Thing Part 1), and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Return of the Fearsome Fangs, Duel of the Double Crossers, The Siege of Starro! Part 1). Earlier this year, Jonah Hex was even featured on an episode of Justice League Action (All Aboard the Space Train). In that feature, Jonah must team up with Space Cabbie to stop Kanjar Ro from robbing a space train. Typing this out makes no sense, I know, but that’s part of the charm of Jonah Hex. I would watch animated Jonah Hex over and over for the rest of my life before ever watching the live-action film from 2010 again.

Essential Wolverine Vol. 6

First Published: December 2012

Contents: Wolverine #111 (March 1997) to #128 (September 1998); Wolverine #-1 (July 1997); and Wolverine Annual ’97 (1997)

Key Creator Credits: Larry Hama, Warren Ellis, Chris Claremont, Anthony Winn, Leinil Francis Yu, Denys Cowan, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Wolverine Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Wolverine Vol. 7

Overview: Despite being the best there is at what he does, Wolverine still seems to encounter opponents intent on proving that statement wrong. That works out for us, giving us Essential Wolverine Vol. 6.

This collection starts out with Wolverine striking out on his own — AGAIN! This time, he goes 35 miles south into the East Village neighborhood of New York City. He finds an apartment, lands a construction job, and lives happily ever after, right? Not so much. Sometimes trouble finds him, sometimes he finds trouble all on his own. In this situation, Logan encounters a killer mime. I can’t make this stuff up, but Larry Hama did!

Next Wolverine and the X-Men get caught up in the Operation Zero Tolerance story arc (see below). Following that, Warren Ellis and Leinil Francis Yu step in for a four-issue arc with Wolverine encountering a professional assassin, McLeish, who he thought had been dead for the last ten years. Surviving that, Wolverine encounters two former foes, Roughouse and Bloodscream, who he first met back in Essential Wolverine Vol. 1.

This final story in this collection is a fun read as Wolverine finds that he must marry Viper to fulfill a debt of honor. A long the way, most of the other women in Wolverine’s life (Kitty, Jubilee, Black Widow, Jessica Drew, and others) are trying to stop Wolverine from doing so. Of course, any comic book wedding has to be crashed by someone. In this instance, it’s Sabretooth and he wants to kill the groom.

What makes this Essential?: OK, I have come around on the Wolverine line of Essentials. With the last two volumes, the printing process did not work well with the new look of the comics. With this volume, the reprinting is nearly perfect. I still had a hard time reading the footnotes, but everything else looked great printed in black and white. The biggest challenge with this line is finding stories that feature Wolverine in a solo adventure. We had multiple crossovers with the X-Men, some more warranted than others. I realize that Marvel sold a lot of comics in the 1990s thanks to Wolverine and the X-Men, but sometimes you want the solo book to be a solo book and not just an extension of the team book.

If you like this volume, try: the complete X-Men – Operation Zero Tolerance story. In this volume, we get the Wolverine issues of the story, but it ran across a lot of other mutant books (X-Men, Cable, Generation X, and X-Force). Following the events of Age of Apocalypse, Henry Peter Gyrich and Bastion leverage their positions in the U.S. Government to go after the mutants. Bastion creates a new line of Prime Sentinels which he sends out to capture the mutants. The government takes control of the Xavier School, getting access to files and technology. Iceman steps up and leads a small group to help stop Bastion. Finally, S.H.I.E.L.D. finally intervenes and revokes the Operation Zero Tolerance orders. This has been collected as a hardcover and a trade paperback, so it should be easy to track down.

Showcase Presents Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld Vol. 1

First Published: September 2012

Contents: Amethyst story from Legion of Super-Heroes #298 (April 1983); Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld #1 (May 1983) to #12 (April 1984); Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld Annual #1 (1984); DC Comics Presents #63 (November 1983); and Amethyst #1 (January 1985) to #11 (November 1985)

Key Creator Credits: Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Ernie Colón, Ric Estrada, and others

Key First Appearances: Amy Winston/Amethyst, Dark Opal, Carnelian, Sardonyx, Citrina, Herb Winston, Marion Winston, Emerald, Fire Jade, Topaz, Turquoise, Garnet, Moonstone, Diamond

Overview: Meet Amy Winston, your typical 13-year-old girl in America. For her birthday, she receives a mysterious gift containing an amethyst pendant. Amy discovers that the pendant opens a passage way to Gemworld, a magical land divided into 12 realms. When Amy travels to Gemworld, she is transformed into a 20-year-old woman known as Princess Amethyst, the heir to the throne of her realm.

Unfortunately, Gemworld is not a peaceful place. Dark Opal has plans to take over Gemworld and will stop at nothing to do so. But Amethyst and her loyal friends and subjects unite to stop Dark Opal. This would be easier to do if Amethyst could be a full-time resident of Gemworld. But she must constantly travel back to Earth to resume her life as Amy, and to keep her parents from going crazy with her sudden disappearances.

While the initial mini-series was ongoing, Amethyst got to make the obligatory appearance over in DC Comics Presents where she teams up with Superman for an issue. Unfortunately, this is the one brief appearance that really ties her into the DC Universe, other than the Wonder Woman poster hanging up in Amy’s bedroom.

Amethyst did return with a new ongoing series, letting us see more of Gemworld and new threats to the realms. Amethyst tries her best to balance her time between Gemworld and Earth, but the demands of the throne keep making it harder and harder to be a teenage girl.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I checked out this series some when it was first released in 1983. I wasn’t overly sold on it, but I think that was also a time when I liked a lot of other books on the shelves more and my allowance was limited. So I probably never gave a fair chance back then.

Reading this now, I am intrigued and disappointed at the same time. There is a lot that works really well for this series. I want to know more about the various houses and see more of the back-and-forth between the realms of Gemworld. But this series suffers being reprinted in black & white. Much like Green Lantern, so much of the story is dependent on the book being printed in color. You need the colors of the page to help distinguish some of the characters. I’m also upset that the character has been relatively unused since the two series finished in the mid-1980s.

Footnotes:  The 1985 Amethyst series ran for 16 issues, plus a Special. The final five issues and the Special have not been reprinted.

If you like this volume, try: reading Promethea from Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III. This was part of the ABC Comics from Moore that DC put out in the early 2000s. Promethea tells the story of a young woman, Sophie Bangs, who is researching the ancient myth of Promethea for a college paper. Soon after, she encounters an ancient enemy of Promethea and then finds herself transforming into Promethea. Now Sophie must quickly learn her new powers and abilities before she is destroyed. This story mixes so many elements from different comics (Wonder Woman, Shazam, even Amethyst) and is gorgeously illustrated by Williams. This series is available in multiple formats, so it should not be difficult to track down.